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Let’s get one thing clear about the Chris Brown concert at Alltel Arena on Saturday night. The ladies were in love.
Girls were everywhere. Young girls. With their mothers and fathers nervously by their side, the pre-teens were in paradise. This predominantly adolescent crowd of 5,692 hip-hop fans made walking through the Alltel complex like a trip to the mall on the day before school. Amidst the murmuring fans, Chris Brown and fellow R&B crooner NE-Yo were the names being whispered while I waited for a $7 Bud Select. (Outside of the parents, I might have been the only one of legal drinking age.)
Rap group Dem Franchize Boyz’s dirty-South anthems “I Think They Like Me” and “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It” during the opening set sent the crowd into a dance frenzy. The group’s choreographed “snap-rap” routines were tight and well rehearsed as they broke into “White T-Shirts,” a song about the oversized and over-starched white T-shirts I saw on most of the young men in attendance. One note from Monica’s “Every Time the Beat Drops,” which features Dem Franchize Boyz, got everyone out of their seats.
New Orleans rapper Lil’ Wayne surprised me with a strange solo outing on the massive stage, opting to take on the crowd himself rather than ranting and raving with a “crew of homies” surrounding him in affirmation. Honestly, it worked. This was one of the high points of the night, with tattooed and shirtless Lil’ Wayne holding the breath and attention of the audience with his cuts “The Block Is Hot” and “Go DJ.” Lil’ Wayne’s father is a rapper known as Birdman, and the kid has done his homework. For as many young listeners as there were in the crowd, the tone was somewhat edgy and explicit. But I sat back with beverage in hand, took some lessons from the street, and “leaned wit it” through the rest of a solid set.
When Arkansas native NE-Yo hit the stage, there were enough strobes and lights to power the River Market. His voice was smooth enough, and his dance moves were mostly flawless (outside of dropping the mike), while flanked by female dancers in tight “booty” shorts and provocative gyrations. NE-Yo’s voice is expertly smooth — even while performing his onstage workout, he never lost his breath. The crowd was undeniably moved and I noticed more than a few spontaneous dance moves in the seats. He revealed his power over the sweet ladies with strong renditions of his hits “Sign Me Up” and “When You’re Mad.”
When the headliner Brown took the stage, the eruption from the crowd left my ears ringing. It was impressive, though the wait wasn’t really worth it. Don’t get me wrong, Chris Brown is talented. But his voice isn’t as tempered as NE-Yo’s, and he tended to squeak at times. On his hits “Yo” and “Run It,” you could see the star potential in Brown’s vocal attitude and slick street moves, but there was a bit of a split personality to his message. At times, Brown presented a suave, sensitive songwriter who could empathize with “all dem sexy ladies,” but then would follow up with a scowling street-rough anthem to possibly connect to a different listening demographic. When Lil’ Wayne emerged to help him with “Gimme Dat,” energy was injected back into the crowd. It was this two-sided persona that rang flat for me, and though he’s obviously a star on the rise, Chris Brown was lucky to have brought some friends along.
— Stephen Rock
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